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Should You Take A DNA Test For Alzheimer's?
Many people know about Alzheimer's disease, and fear that they may one day encounter its effects as older age approaches.
For many people who have experienced the effects of Alzheimer's through caring for a loved family member or friend, it can be sobering to think about managing the disease themselves. In fact, developing Alzheimer’s disease is the number one health fear among Americans age 50 and older according to a study by the Alzheimer’s Association.
What's in this Guide?
- Should You Take A DNA Test For Alzheimer's?
- What Can Be Learned From A DNA Test?
- What Are The Types Of DNA Tests?
- Is Alzheimer’s Genetic?
- Can You Determine If You Have Alzheimer’s From A DNA Test?
- Can A DNA Test Tell Me If I Am At Risk For Alzheimer’s?
- How Accurate Is A DNA Test For Alzheimer’s?
- Where Can You Go For An Alzheimer’s DNA Test?
- Should You Do A Home DNA Test For Alzheimer’s?
Disclaimer: Before You Read
It is important to know that your genes are not your destiny. There are various environmental and genetic factors working together to shape you. No matter your genetic makeup, maintain ideal blood pressure and glucose levels, avoid harmful alcohol intake, exercise regularly, get regular sleep. And for goodness sake, don't smoke.
Genetics is a quickly changing topic. Read More...
Because there is no cure for Alzheimer's, many people want to know how they can reduce the risks of developing Alzheimer's disease, and many also wonder what their chances of developing it are.
Now, that DNA tests that can determine your risk level of having Alzheimer's are available, many people wonder if the test is right for them. If you’re wondering, too, keep reading for more information about how these tests work and what information you can learn from them.
What Can Be Learned From A DNA Test?
DNA tests are becoming popular scientific tools that give you a strong insight into how your body may respond to a variety of genetic and environmental factors.
Believe it or not, but DNA tests have been used to help people understand how their genetics impacts food allergies, how easy or difficult it is for them to lose weight, or how they may respond to certain kinds of medication or medical procedures.
In addition, popular at-home DNA test kits that are purchased online can be used to learn more about your genetic ancestors and family history. As DNA science advances and becomes more accessible and affordable to everyday people, the bounds of what DNA tests can tell us are endless.
What Are The Types Of DNA Tests?
If you’re considering utilizing a DNA test, you may feel a bit overwhelmed by all the options available to purchase online or to have administered through your doctor’s office.
Here’s the difference between a handful of common DNA tests that you may have seen commercials for or encountered online.
Ancestry DNA tests: This kind of DNA test is the kind you may have seen ads for, where it says submitting a DNA sample can help you find out more about your family history. Ancestry DNA tests are becoming more and more popular around the globe, and they often come with additional features such as family tree databases to help you compile your genealogy.
And, if you choose to participate, these DNA tests can also compare your DNA to that of people who have also submitted a test to identify potential relatives, which can work in the benefit of people who are adopted or don’t know much of their family. Popular ancestry DNA tests include AncestryDNA, Family Tree DNA, and MyHeritage DNA, though more and more companies are offering this kind of DNA testing as time goes on.
At-Home Medical DNA tests: As more people want to know about their genetics, DNA testing companies have developed a variety of DNA test kits that can clue you on potential personal health risks. One of the biggest draws of these tests is that they can be taken within the privacy of your own home and they’re affordable — which means that the information you gain from these tests can help you understand your personal health situation without the expense of a doctor-ordered DNA test.
Many of these tests scan your DNA for a large number of conditions — in some cases upwards of 30 to 40 or more health issues such as cystic fibrosis, Alzheimer's, and the BRCA genes related to breast cancer — to let you know what your potential risk levels are for developing particular health conditions or to identify if you are a carrier of a certain disease.
For people who are considering starting families, this information can be helpful when deciding if they want to pursue further DNA testing; for others, having these clues about the potential to develop certain diseases can help them make better lifestyle choices or be on the lookout for symptoms. Common brands of these at-home DNA tests include the popular 23andMe, Vitagene, and Helix DNA.
Doctor-requested DNA tests: If you’re undergoing treatment for a potential health condition, or doctors aren’t sure what kind of illness may be impacting your health, medically necessary DNA tests requested by your doctor can be utilized. These DNA tests are comprehensive and can give you and your health care provider more information about your personal health, as well as ideas on how to pursue medical treatments.
Doctor-ordered DNA tests are much more costly than at-home medical DNA tests and will require your doctor to determine a need for them. Because your doctor can argue that these tests are medically required, it’s often possible for your insurance provider to cover at least some of the cost of DNA testing.
Paternity DNA tests: Paternity testing is one of the top uses of DNA tests. For decades, this highly accurate form of DNA testing has been used to prove (or disprove) paternity. And, because parents and children often share 50 percent of their DNA, it’s highly accurate.
In most cases, DNA paternity testing is done by a hospital or professional laboratory, though there are at-home kits you can purchase, which collect a sample and require you to mail it off to a laboratory for analysis.
When it comes to understanding how these DNA tests work, you may have read about the three different segments of DNA that genetic scientists observe from a DNA sample: Y-DNA, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and autosomal DNA. Here’s what these different sections of DNA can all tell genetic scientists, and how they’re different from one another:
Y-DNA: Only men carry this kind of DNA, specifically because it’s passed through the Y chromosome. This kind of DNA is helpful when utilizing ancestry DNA test kits (such as Family Tree DNA, the popular AncestryDNA, or MyHeritageDNA) because it’s passed from father to son and amazingly, remains mostly unchanged.
That means Y-DNA is extremely helpful with DNA testing because it can be used to track the genetic traits passed onto a man from his father, who received that genetic material from his father, and so on. For that reason, it’s good for ancestry DNA tests, as well as for understanding genetic conditions that are passed on to males in a family.
If you’re a woman, you won’t have any Y-DNA for a DNA test kit to reveal (because women have two X chromosomes and no Y chromosomes).
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA): What’s so interesting about mtDNA is that unlike Y-DNA, everyone has it. That’s because it’s passed from a mother to her children through the X chromosome regardless of their sex. Mitochondrial DNA is equally helpful as Y-DNA when it comes to exploring ancestry through a DNA test.
It’s especially helpful for people who want to know more about their maternal ancestry or health conditions that women in their family may have.
Autosomal DNA: This third kind of DNA — autosomal DNA — is something that everyone has, and has nothing to do with your gender. In fact, autosomal DNA is the section of your DNA that carries all the traits that aren’t related to sex, and is what makes you uniquely you. For the most part, DNA tests spend much more time examining your autosomal DNA because it makes up the largest amount of your genetic code.
And when to tests that determine what your risk level is for a disease, how you may respond to exercise or diet, or how a particular medicine may work in favor of your health, your autosomal DNA is what genetic scientists are evaluating. This kind of DNA is also what ancestry DNA test kits analyze when determining what ethnic group you may belong to.
Is Alzheimer’s Genetic?
Many people who have watched a family member suffer the effects of Alzheimer’s disease wonder if it’s a genetic condition and if they’ll one day undergo the same symptoms.
While there’s no cure for this irreversible, progressive disease, scientists and researchers are learning more about it every day. One thing we do know about Alzheimer's is that of the two types — early onset and late onset — both have a strong link to genetics.
According to Alzheimer’s research, some cases of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease are caused by genetic mutations that are inherited from your parents. In fact, a person whose mother or father carries a genetic mutation for early-onset Alzheimer’s disease has a 50 percent chance of also having that mutation.
And, if they do inherit that that genetic mutation, the chances of developing early-onset Alzheimer’s disease are high. When it comes to late-onset Alzheimer’s, scientists aren’t entirely sure exactly why it develops or what causes it.
There’s a general belief among Alzheimer’s researchers that a combination of several factors — genetics, lifestyle, and environment — lead to the condition. There’s no specific gene that has been linked directly to late-onset Alzheimer’s disease, though researchers have determined that having a certain kind of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene or any of its variants on chromosome 19 can increase your risk of developing the disease.
Can You Determine If You Have Alzheimer’s From A DNA Test?
Here’s the deal about DNA tests and the information they give you: While these tests examine the structure of your DNA and can determine if you have certain genes that can pose a risk for developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s, there’s no DNA test that can say you will definitively develop or not develop Alzheimer’s.
Genetic testing can only identify if you have the genes that could play a role in developing a certain health condition, and according to the National Institute on Aging, it’s unlikely that DNA tests will ever be able to accurately predict who will get the disease and who doesn’t. That’s because there’s still so much to learn about Alzheimer’s disease, and because so many factors, such as your lifestyle and environment, come in to play.
Can A DNA Test Tell Me If I Am At Risk For Alzheimer’s?
So, while a DNA test can’t give you a definitive “yes” or “no” about whether or not you’ll develop Alzheimer’s disease, it can clue you into whether or not you carry the genes that could increase your risk.
DNA tests can determine if you carry any of the variants of the APOE gene that are known to be related to Alzheimer’s. But, because there are several variants of the APOE gene, and not all are fully understood, being informed that you have these genes doesn’t mean that you’ll develop the disease.
So, what do you do if you find out that you’re a carrier any genes related to Alzheimer’s development? First, you shouldn’t assume that you’ll for certain develop the disease. But, you can work with a genetic counselor to better understand your personal risks, and make lifestyle and environmental changes that can help counteract and reduce your chances of having Alzheimer’s disease.
How Accurate Is A DNA Test For Alzheimer’s?
Because DNA tests for Alzheimer’s can’t tell you whether or not you’ll have the disease for certain, many people wonder how accurate these tests are.
Many tests, such as 23andMe, test for the most common genetic mutations associated with late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Test results will show whether you have or do not have any variations of the APOE gene, but beyond that, they can’t tell you much else.
You should know that this doesn’t mean the test is inaccurate — it’s just that the tests can only tell you whether or not you have a specific gene mutation.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much research on the accuracy of DNA tests that are marketed for at-home use, meaning that consumers have to rely on companies and the accuracy statistics they provide. For that reason, if you’re really concerned that you may be at risk for developing Alzheimer’s, it’s important to speak with your doctor to evaluate your risk and to determine if you need genetic testing.
Where Can You Go For An Alzheimer’s DNA Test?
If you’re considering having a DNA test for Alzheimer’s, there are two options you can consider: at-home DNA tests or DNA tests ordered by your doctor.
At-home DNA tests are a good option to consider if you’re unsure of your personal risk and don’t have any evidence that you may be at high-risk for the disease, such as a family history of Alzheimer’s. Many of these tests, such as ones provided by 23andMe and Helix, range between $100 and $200, and can be purchased online.
But, if you’re looking for more detailed information about your personal risk for Alzheimer’s, it’s smart to consult with a genetic counselor. This health care provider can determine what kind of DNA testing will work best for you and where you can have a DNA test performed.
They’ll also be able to interpret a laboratory’s DNA analysis, giving you a more conclusive explanation of the DNA test results. Genetic counselors are often covered by insurance, making their services relatively affordable.
Should You Do A Home DNA Test For Alzheimer’s?
Many people are simply unsure if they should take a DNA test to determine if they are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
The only person who can make the best choice when it comes to taking a home DNA test for Alzheimer’s is you. For many people, there’s a lot of stress, worry, and fear associated with taking a home DNA test specifically to learn about their risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
For this reason, the Alzheimer’s Society says that when having a DNA test for Alzheimer’s, it’s “vital that proper genetic counseling is provided to ensure it is the correct decision” for your medical health and well-being.
Still, at home DNA tests are an inexpensive way to calm your fears or encourage you to make more informed lifestyle choices. In fact, many genetic counselors say that there’s nothing wrong with taking a home DNA test, so long as you loop your doctor into discussions about why you’re taking the test, and what information you’re hoping to learn.
In this way, your health care provider can help you interpret the test results and also provide you with resources for improving your health, regardless of what the DNA test results suggest.
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